In his prose poem entitled "We and You" (Nahnu wa Antum), and included in his book The Tempests (al-Awasif), Gibran defines the category of man to whom he belongs, he says: "We sons of the sadness, we the Prophets, the poets, the musicians…" (al-Awasif, 31). Expressing, through mythology, the predominant quality of this category, he adds: "We sculpt from marble the statue of Astarte and made the solid marble shiver and talk" (Al-Awasif, 32). (I remind you that Astarte is the Phoenician goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, namely the renewal of life). In the same poem, we may find the principles of Gibran's self and his conception of the other. Gibran's self is the one who belongs to prophets, poets, musicians, painters and sculptors, and all these are sad because their souls are held apart from God by their bodies.
Concerning the other, Gibran distinguishes two kids: The first is formed by the men of power, tyranny and pleasure, who don't suffer from separation from God as they are attached to the dust. The second kind is formed by the weak, the poor and the oppressed men and whom Gibran feels compassion, without having any hatred for the first kind of men, the joyful, the sons of merriment (Hawi 180-181).
I mentioned that Gibran belongs to the poets and musicians; therefore, it is necessary to point out Gibran's conception of poets and musicians. Through Apollo, the god of music and poetry, Gibran confirms that music has a divine origin; it is inspired from heaven; and its existence precedes mans' creations and reminds him of God. For this reason, The Greeks and Romans adored it and built temples for Apollo. Furthermore, they believed that Apollo's music is the echo of nature, the sound of its birds, water, wind and tree branches.
Another hero is mentioned by Gibran, namely Orpheus, a poet and musician of Greek mythology. Gibran points out the influence of his music on animals, plants and stones. Even gods were charmed by the music of his lyre (al-Musiqa 9-10). Through Orpheus, Gibran expresses his concept of Art: poetry and music and inseparable; both have a divine origin. The poet is an intermediary between gods and humanity. He has a divine mission of love and beauty symbolized by Astarte and Apollo.
Nevertheless, the poets' aim is not to glorify gods, but they ought to deal with humans and choose their subjects from life experience. Gibran confirms this point of view in "The Two Poems," part of The Wanderer, a posthumously published Gibran book in 1932. The piece speaks of two poems: the first is a long invocation to Zeus, the second consists only of "…eight lines in remembrance of a child playing in a garden"; the first poem "is neither loved nor read" while the eight lines "are read in every tongue, and are loved and cherished" (The Wanderer 69).
Gibran is also attracted by Orphism, a mystic Greek religion founded by Orpheus and based mainly on the following three principles adopted by Gibran: purification, reincarnation and salvation. In another piece entitled the "Baalbakian Poet", Gibran proclaims that society should honor the poet alive because of his divine mission; if it fails him, he will return by reincarnation to be honored (al-Awasif 111).
The influence of Orphism is also rather clear in Gibran's master-piece The Prophet. We know that Al-Mustapha "…had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for his ship to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth" (The Prophet 3).
Several interpretations were given to the etymology of the term, "Orphalese," the most probably one is that it was created by Gibran from Orpheus and Orphism, especially that the introduction and the conclusion of The Prophet contain Gibran's main ideas inspired from Orphism, namely reincarnation. Gibran says through Al-Mustapha; "A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me" (The Prophet 95).
We conclude that Gibran believed that he had a divine mission as an artist as well as a thinker. Concerning others, we distinguish Gibran's concept of man and woman from his attitude toward the society, civilization, and Jesus.
Man and woman were unified in the spiritual world. Gibran even speaks of their one soul incarnated in two bodies. The soul seeks unification on earth by God's will. If they miss unification because of death, they can reach it by reincarnation in a second life.
All this ideas mentioned above are enclosed in Gibran's short story "Dust of the Ages and the Eternal Fire". The hero Nathan, son of Hiram the priest, implores Astarte to save his beloved from illness, he says:
Mercy, o great Astarte. Mercy, o goddess of love and beauty. Have pity on me and lift the hand of death from off my beloved, whom my soul has chosen to do you will… let… the part of my soul live. [And the maid before dying answers] I am going, my beloved, to the meadows of the spirits, but I shall return to this world. Astarte brings back to this life the soul of lovers who have gone to the infinite before they has tasted of the delights of love and the joys of youth (Nymphs of the Valley 19,21).
And after their reincarnation, she concluded: "Astarte has brought back our soul to this life so that the delight of love and the glory of youth might not be forbidden" (Nymphs of the Valley 33). Gibran, in two chapters 8 & 9 of his novel The Broken Wings speaks of the woman's situation in life. The chapter entitled "Between Christ and Ishtar" describes a "Phoenician picture, carved in the rock, depicting Ishtar, goddess of love and beauty, sitting on her throne, surrounded by seven nude virgins …" Another picture symbolizes "Christ nailed to the cross, and at his side stand his sorrowful mother and Mary Magdalene and two other women weeping" (The Broken Wings 91-92).
The woman has two alternatives in life: either to sit on the throne, or to stand by the cross. The devoted woman is represented in The Prophet by Almithra, who believed in Al-Mustapha, since his first day at the city of Orphalese. Her predominant qualities are truth and love (The Prophet 10-11). Almithra was the god of light in the ancient Persian religion, and according to Mikhail Naimy, Almithra is an allegory of Mary Huskell, the woman who loved and helped Gibran, ever since she met him in 1904, until his death in April 1931 (Naimy 188). Others are not the individuals only, but they are the civilization also, especially its transformation from a situation to another.
Gibran believes that civilization doesn't often respond to human aspirations; this was the case with Phoenicia, Greece and Rome before the advent of Jesus. The express this idea, Gibran speaks of several mythological gods and goddesses; Jupiter, the Chief Roman god; Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom; Apollo, the Greek god of music and poetry; Venus the Roman goddess of love and beauty; Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and hunters; and Baal, the Phoenician god of the sun.
His purpose is to prove that they didn't satisfy what the people were longing for:
The children of Judah … awaited the promised coming of a Mighty one… to deliver them for the bondage of the nations. The great spirit in Greece saw that the worship of Jupiter and Minerva was of no account … . And in Rome sublime thought considered, and found that the [divinity] of Apollo was … far from human feeling. And the timeless beauty of Venus was near to old age… Pan, god of the forests, was filling with dread the souls of shepherds, and Baal of the sun oppressing the breasts of the lowly and wretched (A Tear and a Smile 133-134).
What transformation did the advent of Jesus achieve?
[He] wrested with his gentleness the sceptre of power from the hands of Jupiter, and delivered it unto the poor shepherd… took wisdom form Minerva and put it on the tongue of the lowly fisherman… distilled joy through his own sorrow from Apollo and granted it to the broken-hearted… poured forth beauty through his beauty from Venus and planted it in the soul of the fallen woman… brought Baal low from his seat of power and put in his stead the poor (A Tear and a Smile 133-134).
What about relations between self and civilization? We remark that Gibran doesn't make any difference between individual transformation and collective one, between change in self and change in civilization. The personal transfer is similar to the collective one. It progresses from life without love to life with love or by love.
As for society, Gibran has a very pessimistic idea at least regard to its present. When his intended to describe the social situation, he had recourse to Melpomene, the Greek muse of tragedy, daughter of Jupiter, who showed him all kinds of falsifications in society: falsification of religion, love, law, freedom, wisdom, equality and knowledge; he says:
I beheld priests, sly like foxes; and false messiahs dealing in trickery with the people. And men crying out, calling upon wisdom for deliverance and wisdom spurning them with anger…. I saw also lawmakers trading their garbled speech in the market of shame and deceit; and physicians making sports with the trusting soul of the simple…. I saw the wretched poor sowing and the powerful rich harvesting and eating; and oppression standing there and the people calling it law… and true freedom walking alone in the streets, seeking shelter before doors… (A Tear and a Smile 34-35).
But in spite of this dark vision, Gibran as an evolutionary remains hopeful concerning the future of mankind.
Gibran's Jesus the Son of Man doesn't only speak of Jesus' nature, his relation with God and his preaching, but also turns a special attention to reincarnation, regional antagonism, religious struggle, class struggle, different mentalities between each and west.
The various appellations of Jesus are: the Christ, the Work, The Nazarene, and the Son of Man (Jesus the Son of Man 42-44). According to Gibran, Christ is the flame of God, His will, His first word, the breath of life. "But the Christ, the word who was in the beginning, the spirit… came unto Jesus…" and built "a house of flesh and bones"; "Jesus the man of Nazareth, was the host… and the mouthpiece of the Christ"; "Some of us call him the son of man" because he knew the hunger and the thirst of man, and he was born like us. Then Gibran applies to Christ his personal doctrine of reincarnation and affirms that "many times Christ has come to the world… and here in… north country… bards of old sand of Prometheus… of Orpheus" and knew Mithra and Zoroaster (Jesus the Son of Man 42-44).
I pass to the antagonism between the north and other regions of Israel. Jesus "was a man from… that north country where Adonis and Astarte still claim power against Israel and the god of Israel…" and as declared Annas the high Priest: "No man from the cursed north shall reach our holy of holies" (Jesus the Son of Man 182-183).
The resemblance between Christianity and the cult of Adonis and Astarte is clear enough in Gibran's book especially in the lamentation that Gibran attributes to the woman of Byblos, she says: "Weep with me daughters of Astarte, and ye lovers of Tamouz … for Jesus of Nazareth is dead" (Jesus the Son of Man 205-206).
The second struggle is the social one. The powerful and rich claimed that Jesus "spoke the bastard language of low born and the vulgar," but Gibran refuses such an accusation because Jesus "was not with the servant against his master. Neither was he with the master against the servant. He was with no man against another man… he was a man above men"; what Jesus aimed at was to defend weak people who need love and protection. Gibran evoked Artemis, the Greek goddess protector of children and persons who need help: "If nobility lies in being protective," Jesus "was the noblest of all men… he is crowned …by the priestesses of Artemis in the secret places of her temple" (Jesus the Son of Man 140-141).
Concerning differences between east and west, we find a first blame addressed by a Greek apothecary to the Syrians because when "they are visited by an illness, [they] seek an argument rather than medicine" (Jesus the Son of Man 16-17).
Another blame is addressed by a roman against Jews, Phoenicians and Arabs: "These people would not be happy with a happy god. They know only the god of their pain". While Jesus revealed God as a being of joy, as Gibran says (Jesus the Son of Man 133-134).
Gibran, Kahlil. al-Awasif. Beirut; Sader, 1988.
_____. The Broken Wings. Trans. Anthony R. Farris. USA. Bantam Books 1974.
_____. Jesus the Son of Man. New York: Knoft, 1972.
_____. Al-Musiqa. Beirut: Sader, 1988.
_____. Nymphs of the Valley. Trans. H.M. Nahmad. London: Heinemann, 1971.
_____. The Prophet. New York: Knoft, 1951.
_____. A Tear and a Smile. Trans. H.M. Nahmad. London: Heinemann, 1973
_____. The Wanderer. London: Heinemann, 1976
Hawi, S. Khalil. Kahlil Gibran. Beirut: The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1972.
Naimy, Mikhail. Kahlil Gibran. Beirut: Khayats, 1967.
Gibran's Self and Other Through Mythology